See below for past installments in my Role Reversal series of articles, a history of where this series has gone and where else this series could go. Thanks, enjoy and feel absolutely free to debate to your heart's content.
If I'm going to blaspheme hard enough to say CM Punk shouldn't be pigeonholed as a natural heel, as I did in Vol. 1, I feel compelled to give similar spotlight to one Christopher Keith Irvine, more commonly known as "The Lionheart" Chris Jericho.
Many say he was born to play a heel. Me? I say it's a good fit, but sometimes he tried too hard.
For those who don't recall, The Lionheart is the nickname Chris used to go by when he was in WCW. Back then, he was a somewhat mouthy young upstart attempting to make a name for himself by tying his long blond hair up in unique ways and bending people backwards with his patented Liontamer submission hold. I wouldn't say that the Lionheart was particularly a jobber, but looking back on his success in WWE, it's safe to say he was misused by WCW for quite some time.
That's right, it's not just WWE who's done that. WCW did it plenty as well.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. If WCW had any clue at all that Jericho would blow up to the heights of popularity that he did, they would've offered him double and triple the money they were paying him, guaranteed.
From what I remember of his last few moments on WCW TV, Jericho claimed to be fairly unhappy with not being utilized to his fullest potential as a super-duper mega superstar in WCW.
Soon after his last match in WCW, over in WWE, fans began seeing countdown clocks during programs which many people (like me, who weren't paying attention to the calendar) thought signaled the infamous Y2K (or Year 2000) turnover that was quickly becoming a reality.
However, as the clock counted further and further down, it became apparent that the clock wasn't pointing to the New Year. It was pointing to an episode of Raw. When the clock finally wound down to zero, a short vignette played on the Titantron, after which the word JERICHO appeared on the screen.
For the first time, at the expense of The Rock no less, we heard the expression made famous, "Welcome to...RAW...IS...JERICHO!"
In one shot, Chris Jericho went from being enhancement talent employed by WWE's biggest competitor to a supernova.
As peoples' perception of him being a natural heel isn't entirely without grounds, it didn't take long for Jericho to be a heel after his debut in WWE, losing to Road Dogg on Smackdown by DQ and entering into a feud with Chyna. However, the nature of his "relationship" with Chyna, their co-ownership of the Intercontinental Title and Chyna's own heel turn in siding with Eddie Guerrero forced the people to see him differently and finally, Jericho could be cheered appropriately.
Chris played a face for plenty of years and did it brilliantly! People loved chanting Y2J, they were fascinated by seeing a former WCW star get a chance to really express himself in front of wrestling fans and they loved singing along with his catchphrases.
He's a guy who really knows how to get a crowd behind him or against him, and do it convincingly.
Like any wrestler who has fine tuned his craft, he jumped back and forth between being face and heel, but at the end of his initial run with WWE, he took a brief role as a hired heel assassin to take out John Cena on behalf of Eric Bischoff (Raw GM at the time).
After failing and being kayfabe fired, he played music with his band, Fozzy, toured around the world, did some TV, maybe a movie or two, and eventually made his return to WWE on November 19, 2007 after the chaotic "Save_Us.222" promotional campaign swept the internet.
Naturally, psychotic freaks on YouTube deciphered each hidden message in the computer code to determine that it was indeed Chris Jericho, and when the man returned, at the expense of a heel Randy Orton, he was once again a massive face.
Given how Orton is these days, as the mostly silent and vicious face Viper, I can't help but wonder. That was only about four years ago and Jericho's initial motive for returning, he claims, was to save WWE from boring and stale characters like Randy himself.
Not to sound accusatory, but that sounds an awful lot like what the IWC have been saying about Randy for a while.
I won't leave myself out. I've said about it him, too, but sometimes, we need to deprogram the things our heroes tell us. No, The Viper is certainly not the comedic, arrogant loudmouth face that Y2J has ever been, nor is The Viper the angry yet charismatic heel that Y2J has ever been.
Orton has his own style, his own character and his own personality, and slowly but surely, I'm beginning to appreciate it for what it is. Instead of hoping Orton emulates the more vocal types, I'm going to hope he takes more action.
But that's an examination for another article.
Just as he claimed, Jericho did indeed excite us upon his return and it only took about 4-5 months for him to return to being a heel, attacking Shawn Michaels and adopting a newer, sleeker gimmick of being "the best in the world at what he does."
Does this mean that he's a "natural" at being a heel? Let me be a little clearer. He's considered by many to be a "natural heel," however just because he always seems to revert to a loudmouth heel character, does that mean that's the only way we can see him ever again?
I guess when one tries hard enough to be a heel, it's well within one's grasp. You insult crowds enough by repeatedly calling them hypocrits, it's made to look easy. Chris Jericho might prefer playing the role of a booed villain, but there are stars in this business that are simply too big to be heels.
Like I've pointed out, The Rock tried to be a heel as an egotistical part of the Nation of Domination and he became so popular, they had to remove him from the group. Thing is, The Rock's talent for creating the right kind of character with enough wiggle room was so great, his catchphrases and mic work became infectious.
That's where I have my biggest problem with egotistical heels.
Insulting crowds is a simple and overused tactic to get heat. If you're new, I don't mind quite as much. It gives you an immediately relevant topic to get a response.
If you're a veteran? It looks cheap.
Del Rio has been getting massive heat since he arrived and the rate at which he insults crowds isn't nearly as high as guys like Miz and Jericho. That's the thing. There's more wiggle room for Jericho and Miz to be faces if they cut that one thing out of their repertoire.
I've heard people suggest that Del Rio might turn face, but truthfully, I don't see that happening, not for a long while.
Thinking back, there used to be times in wrestling when a character who'd played a heel for a long while would start getting cheers out of nowhere for something they did. As I recommended for Dolph Ziggler in Vol. 2, instead of just shutting it out, making faces or booing the crowd back, they'd look out into the sea of people, perhaps go off script just a teeny bit and really embrace the crowd reaction to see how much positivity they could juice out of the fans.
Weeks later, their role would be changed completely.
Look at Razor Ramon. Pretty much the same guy the entire time he was in WWE, same "oozing machismo," same gold chains he'd give to future ring announcer Tony Chimel (advance to 1:19 in), same slick hair, same vest in different colors (precursor to Cena's shirts perhaps?). Only thing that was drastically different were his adversaries.
Point is, we had chances to love him and chances to hate him. He was pit against certain people for certain reasons. He had certain choices presented to him and based on which side of the fence he landed on, we could make different deductions about his character as a whole person with a timeline of experiences.
As we've seen, Chris Jericho has done this for us in spades, too.
Fact of the matter is, most of the things that make him a heel wrestling character are inserted specifically just to draw heat. The fact that he's appeared in movies, on TV, in interviews and plays with a rock band clearly mean that the guy LIKES being a star that's cheered and appreciated. He just finds it easy to play a wrestling heel because he knows that when he steps into a wrestling ring, there should always be a good guy and a bad guy.
Just so happens, he likes playing the bad guy.
And that's fine. It's not like Jericho hasn't been too big-headed to put anyone over in the past, or at least, hasn't tried to put others over. John Morrison and Evan Bourne beat Jericho cleanly last year, and although it didn't skyrocket them to the top, the wins at least gave them a slice of spotlight for people to latch onto.
Chris Jericho was exceptional at playing the guy that people booed, but unfortunately, the longer his legend remains in the hearts of wrestling fans, every time he appears on WWE programming, he's going to have to work that much harder to get people to acknowledge that HE is the one that needs to get booed, and the tactics he employs during promos are going to cheaper and cheaper.
Eventually, he's going to fall into that Undertaker magnitude of wrestling characters where there isn't a damn thing he can do to draw heel heat, even WHILE calling the crowd hypocrits.
Jericho's not a "natural heel." He just takes his role seriously and actually tries hard to portray it properly.
Of course, Jericho has years of experience being on TV as a sports entertainer, years worth of time honing both his good guy and bad guy characters.
Sometimes, getting pigeonholed in one single image, then getting your imaged tweaked slightly can be devastating.
In Role Reversal Vol. 4, I'm going to examine a WWE resource that might end up being a sleeper. A WWE asset that, if he doesn't get "FE'd up," may just find the springboard he needs to look credible again.
A man who represents exactly what it means to be an optimistic wrestling fan...
Past Installments of Role Reversal:
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